Overshadowed by the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination is the remembrance of the passing of another influential figure of the mid-20th century. C. S. Lewis passed away quietly at his Oxford home, a week shy of his 65th birthday, just an hour before the death of Kennedy. Today a stone in memory of Lewis was unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner.
The stone's inscription is a quote from his essay, "Is Theology Poetry?": "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else."
The Belfast Telegraph interviewed Lewis's stepson Douglas Gresham, who spoke about his memories of his stepfather and how he learned of Lewis's death while away at boarding school:
"I was an eight-year-old American boy steeped in the medieval legends of King Arthur," he recalls. "England to me was a land where I expected everyone to ride chargers and joust whenever they met. So when I was taken to meet the man who was on speaking terms with the great lion Aslan, I subconsciously expected him to be wearing silver armour and carry a sword.
"But he was the antithesis of what I had imagined - a stooped, balding, professorial gentleman with unbelievably shabby clothes and nicotine-stained fingers. It was also clear, however, that he had an enormous personality and sense of fun. This immediately eroded any visual deficiencies. I lost an illusion and gained a great friend and, later, a father."...
"When I was home from school, we would get together at meal times and go for walks," Gresham says. "He was quite prepared to come romping around in the woods with me and expect fauns to step out from behind trees at any moment. He was full of laughter and jokes and stories. He said himself he wasn't good with children but I've rarely met a man who was better."
BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra have broadcast a number of specials this week in remembrance of C. S. Lewis, including radio adaptations of The Screwtape Letters and Shadowlands, the play about his marriage to Joy Davidman and her early death, and a documentary about his upbringing in Northern Ireland and its influence on The Chronicles of Narnia.
Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World also died on the same day as Kennedy and Lewis. In 1982, Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft published Between Heaven and Hell, which imagined a Socratic dialog in which the three recently deceased men discussed eternal matters, with Kennedy as modern humanist (nominally Christian, but indifferent to theological questions), Huxley as Eastern pantheist, and Lewis as "mere" Christian. Earlier this month, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a discussion between biographers of Lewis and Huxley about their times and their ideas.
The first book by Lewis that was read to me was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, read to our 3rd Grade class by Fr. Ralph Urmson-Taylor. The first Lewis book that I bought and read was The Abolition of Man, which you can find online at the Internet Archive. It is essential reading for understanding the direction of our culture and the importance of educating the sentiments as well as the mind. As I wrote a few years ago:
If you believe that our culture first took a wrong turn in, say, the 1960s, this series of three brief lectures from the '40s will give you a new perspective. The rotten fruit of relativism began to appear in the '60s, but the seeds were planted long before.
Lewis begins with an excerpt from an English composition textbook which subtly plants the idea that a statement of value is nothing more than a reflection of the speaker's emotions and is unimportant. The educators are debunking the idea that our sentiments ought to be ordered in accordance with an objective reality. In the process, the very qualities needed to sustain civilization are being cut out of it.
If you want to see the sad results of that radical surgery, read anything by Theodore Dalrymple. If you want to understand how such a sad state of affairs came about, read The Abolition of Man.
Common Core is looking more and more like the incandescent light bulb ban, Obamacare, and scores of other experiments in government regulation that drive up costs, drive out small business, and dry up innovation.
Andrew Pudewa's life work is to enable students to learn to write clearly and persuasively. His company, the Institute for Excellence in Writing, publishes curriculum which is popular among homeschoolers but also used by many public and private schools. Four years ago he moved his business and his family to Oklahoma, a better environment than his previous state of California for small business and educational innovation.
Recently he testified to the Oklahoma House Education Committee about the impact of Common Core Standards. He draws a contrast between a decentralized approach to education, in which learning can be customized to the developmental abilities of the child and innovation is possible, and the centralized, one-size-fits-all approach represented by Common Core, dominated by the Federal government, the big states, and the big textbook publishers.
In the Q&A, in response to a question about Oklahoma's third-grade reading sufficiency tests, Pudewa talks about one of his sons, who is profoundly dyslexic and could not read at all until age 11. He was able to understand material at or above grade level that was read to him by parents or audiobooks, but he couldn't decode letters on a page until that point. Pudewa said that for his son, reading was a matter of "brain function, not a teachable, learnable skill." Once he had a breakthrough in reading, he began to tackle sophisticated material on his own and is now, at 16, an eloquent speaker and writer. Pudewa said that it's "extremely dangerous to judge children on their reading skills based on age." Had his son been in school during his elementary years, "he would have been branded a complete idiot." The implication is that in a standardized environment, his son would have been inappropriately pigeonholed; in a customized environment, like homeschooling, his son could continue to grow and learn and be challenged in other areas, working around his visual processing challenges.
Here is a video of his comments and questions from the committee. Below the video is the text of his prepared remarks (emphasis added).
Mr. Chairman and Committee Members,
Thank you for allowing me to speak today. I come as an Oklahoma resident, a homeschooling parent, an educational curriculum publisher and trainer, and somewhat of a leader in the home education community.
I would like to express my concerns about the Common Core State Standards Initiative. My immediate concerns are three-fold: 1) The historical failure of centralized education, 2) the origins of CCSSI, the motives of its creators, and the potential for ideological abuse, and 3) the problematic concept upon which the idea of "standards" currently exists in modern education.
As a long-time homeschooling parent and someone who speaks with hundreds of home educating families across the country every year, I am intimately aware of the potential of entirely decentralized education. Each family serves as its own "school district" often with the father as the "superintendent" or "principal" and the mother as the "homeroom teacher." Although registration and reporting requirements for homeschoolers vary by state (with Oklahoma being one of the least restrictive), even in states that require direct supervision by a government-run school district and mandatory standardized testing requirements, homeschooling families exercise a great deal of freedom as to their curriculum choices and teaching methods. Therefore it is somewhat of an experiment in ultimate decentralization and complete local control. So how do homeschooled children do? In any demographic category (from family income, to parental education, to geography), homeschoolers meet or exceed their peers in tests of basic skills, ACT/SAT, and college acceptance.
Now, while we must admit that public-schooled children who live in two-parent homes with above poverty-level incomes are also likely to score in the upper half of the percentile ranges (thereby indicating the critical importance of parental involvement in education), we cannot find any statistical advantages of centralized curriculum control. In fact, there is absolutely no historical precedent indicating that top-down dictated curriculum has any effect at all on basic skills anywhere. In fact, the last few decades might indicate at least an empirical correlation between increased efforts by U.S. states to create more rigorous standards and the decline of basic mathematics and language skills of U.S. students. Even in my short time of sixteen years working professionally with various public school districts in California, Washington, and Alaska, it is quite evident that the push for standards in these states has had little, no, or possibly a negative effect, at least in the area of my expertise--basic writing skills. In her 1990 book, Why Johnny Can't Write, Myrna Linden cited several studies that indicated writing skills had been declining for twenty years. In 2005, a Carnegie Foundation Report indicated no improvement, and I don't think there are many university teachers or businessmen who will argue that things have improved in the last decade. So while we certainly cannot blame an increase in legislated educational standards for the decline--other demographic factors are likely responsible--, we certainly cannot expect, based on historical precedent, that centralized standards or curriculum can have much effect on the problem of declining abilities.
For these reasons, I cannot see any advantage for the State of Oklahoma (or any state) to continue to require implementation of the Common Core Standards.
Any benefits these "new" standards might have cannot possibly outweigh the
harms: expense to the state and its public schools, an added burden to administrators and their staff, and the further suppression of teacher initiative and ingenuity. I think we can all attest by personal experience (and it is supported by much research) that the quality of the teacher makes the greatest difference in student performance. Centralized curriculum, in its effort to make all classrooms similar, ends up handicapping great teachers, for whom innovation and enthusiasm go hand-in-hand.
Although revoking Common Core Standards will not solve the problem of declining basic skills, it may allow Oklahoma schools freedom to pursue with greater autonomy curricula and methods that do work, and, as is always true in our free-market economy, success will be imitated. Less central control over education will encourage schools to innovate, attract talented teachers, and strive for excellence.
There are many versions of how the Common Core Standards came into being; one only has to start reading reports, watching YouTube videos and reading political blogs to realize the complexity of the story, and I don't purport to have studied the issue enough to know the whole truth, but certain things do appear to be the case. Funding for the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership came from several sources, chief among them the Gates Foundation. Various educational publishers supported the efforts indirectly, and the U.S. Department of Education set created financial incentives for states that would adopt the new standards. I believe that you have already heard detailed reports on this, perhaps more than you wished.
As a private citizen, my tendency in investigating this is to "follow the dollars." Who might benefit from nationwide adoption of the CCSSI? Since the standards are technology-heavy, perhaps the tech industries would benefit. Because of a need for completely revamped curricula (from textbooks to consumables to multi-media supplements) the publishers would definitely benefit. And I think we all see how the federal government tends to grow anywhere and everywhere it can, even in areas of questionable jurisdiction. While I cannot buy into everything said by Glenn Beck and other very vocal objectors to the Common Core, I do see the potential for increased control over education--not just in the areas of math and language skills, but in actual content as well. Already you have heard from experts concerned with the degradation of the literature in the Common Core language guidelines. I believe you have also heard from others about the possible expansion of Common Core to include social studies and science standards, thus moving into areas of potential ideology and even propaganda.
I formerly resided in California, and have been both amused and saddened by how the state educational standards there have resulted in publishers providing textbooks that distort history (by redefining a "missionary" as "someone who comes from a far away place and tries to change the lifestyle of a group of people") and disrupt traditional values (by removing all references to "mother, father, mom, or dad" from all approved textbooks). Of course the California legislature has passed other almost unbelievable anti-common sense laws, but I won't go into that...
Additionally, because of the virtual monopoly of textbook publishers (Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton-Mifflin), schools required to conform to the Common Core standards will have little choice when it comes to curricula, and the publishers' largest customers (California, New York, Florida, and Texas) do have a great input on textbook content. In fact, CCSSI is a huge windfall for education publishers, since most districts in most states are being forced to replace their existing texts with CCSSI conforming texts, and any differentiations by state standards have been superseded by the Common Core standards. Consequently, the big publishers can now sell the same or very similar books to all the states, further increasing profitability.
This, of course, makes it even harder for small publishers such as myself to keep a toehold in the public education market. Again, centralization and standardization eclipses initiative and creativity; we are not only up against the marketing and PR juggernaut of the big players, we now have to jump through ridiculous hoops to show that what we do--and have always done--not only builds basic writing skills better than most anything out there, but somehow "meets or exceeds" the Common Core standards. Oddly, there are some people in the homeschool world who are so politically opposed to the CCSSI that they will boycott any homeschool publisher who claims to be Common Core aligned. This puts me in an odd double-bind position. But I don't mean to complain to you about my publishing and marketing challenges--that's the vicissitudes of business. I mention it only so you can see how the CCSI adoption limits curriculum options for teachers and schools, and erodes the benefits of a free market in educational materials.
Lastly, I would like to make an appeal to common sense (as opposed to common core), and point out a fundamental problem with all "standards", and that is the meaning of the word itself. The Common Core, along with all state standards, dictates what should or must be taught at every grade level in math and language. Although some people are very good at dissecting and analyzing the language of the standards, I ask just one simple question. How can standards be standards if there are no consequences for failing to meet those standards? A teacher can teach, but she can't force a student to learn. What happens if a fifth grade student does not acquire the skills taught, for example, in standard Gr. 5, L.1.a.: "Explain the function of conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections, in general and their function in particular sentences." As we all know, nothing will happen. There are no consequences. That student will go on to sixth grade, seventh grade, and into high school whether he or she has any idea what a conjunction or preposition is or what it does. Therefore this is not a standard that means anything; it's a suggestion as to what would be nice to know. And if students move up in grade level without mastering the so-called standards of the previous grade, then teaching to the standards becomes increasingly difficult if not impossible for teachers.
Therefore, we have a whole system based on an oxymoron: standards that are not standards. Standards that do not have to be met. Standards that will not change anything. If any other industry in this country held the illusion that not meeting standards had no consequences, it would lose credibility. If quality standards for cars were not enforced, and cars that failed to meet those standards were "graduated" into the marketplace anyway, consumers would be outraged and car manufacturers would either have to change or they would cease to exist. If soldiers were sent into battle whether or not they passed boot camp and could handle a weapon, the citizenry would scream objections. Yet somehow, in education, everywhere in this country, we pass many students to the next grade, the next school, even to college, even though they lack basic skills and general knowledge. Standards initiatives have done nothing to change this--the past three decades have proven it. Perhaps real education reform is possible; I truly believe so. However, we cannot expect more government-approved verbiage about what students should learn to reverse the trend. Much more fundamental changes are needed.
While I personally have some radical ideas as to what could be done to challenge the status quo of decreasing basic skills of American students, such is not our purpose today. For the moment, I very much appreciate your time spent listening to my concerns about the Common Core Standards Initiative, and I hope my perspective as an Oklahoma resident, curriculum publisher, and homeschool parent has been at least a little bit helpful. Even more, I thank you for your daily service to our state and its people; I cannot imagine that enduring meeting after meeting such this is at all easy. God bless you!
Andrew Pudewa is a father of seven, a small business owner, a homeschooling advocate, and an Oklahoma resident for four years. He is a graduate of the Talent Education Institute in Matsumoto, Japan, and holds a certificate in Child Brain Development from the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential. In his capacity as founder and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, he has trained students, parents, teachers, and administrators in 32 states and four countries. His live and video courses have empowered thousands of teachers and parents with methods and techniques to help children develop excellent writing skills. He and his heroic wife, Robin, currently homeschool their two youngest children in the beautiful green country of Locust Grove, OK.
Two elections to fill a city office and three propositions on the City of Tulsa general election ballot for November 12, 2013. Here are my picks:
Mayor: No endorsement. Can't make myself vote for either one. Neither candidate lives up to their expensively self-funded hype. I wish they both could lose. While it won't determine the winner, you can register your disapproval of the finalists in the race by leaving that section blank on your ballot. I wish we had Nevada's None of the Above option.
Auditor: No endorsement. The best choice, Josh Lewis, lost in the primary. Incumbent Clift Richards, originally appointed to his post by Dewey Bartlett Jr, faces Cathy Criswell, risk manager under Kathy Taylor. It would be nice if we could vote for an auditor conditionally. I want Richards to win if Taylor is elected mayor, but I want Criswell to win if Bartlett Jr is re-elected, so that either way the mayor has to deal with an auditor whose career he/she did not advance. Here's an interesting op-ed from business ethicist Chuck Gallagher on the ethics complaint against Clift Richards. Whoever wins will face re-election in November 2014, as city election cycles finally sync up with state and federal elections.
Proposition 1, City Council raise to $24,000 per year: Yes. This amounts to a 6% increase in inflation-adjusted dollars since the council was instituted in 1989. The workman is worthy of his hire.
Proposition 2, 1.1%, seven-year capital improvements sales tax: No. Wish I could support this, but there are too many big vague numbers, along with an unnecessary $10 million donation to another taxing entity. There's time, before the current tax is due to expire at the end of June 2014, to go back to the drawing board and fix what's wrong with this proposition.
Proposition 3, $355 million general obligation bond issue for streets and bridges: Yes. Only 52% of the amount is assigned to specific projects, but the entire amount must be spent on streets and bridges.
Read more in the BatesLine Tulsa Election 2013 archive.
The conventional wisdom, conditioned by a decade or more of self-serving propaganda from certain quarters, is that the Tulsa City Council is just a bunch of bickering complainers, and we'd all be better off to go back to the old commission system where all the decisions were made by five men who lived within a 3 Wood drive of each other.
I beg to differ. The citizens of Tulsa who don't live in the Money Belt deserve representation, too. And most of the city councilors I've known work very hard to ensure that they are listening to their constituents and that their constituents' voices are heard at City Hall. Often that means resisting proposals from the mayor or the Chamber of Commerce or other sources that may not be in the best interests of their constituents or the city as a whole. Good councilors enforce government transparency and accountability.
In addition to attending committee meetings and the regular weekly council meeting on Thursday, a conscientious councilor also attends neighborhood association meetings and city board and commission hearings affecting his district, and spends time researching the issues that come before the council.
It's not a full-time job, but it takes up a lot of time. For councilors who run their own businesses, that often means a loss of income. For all of the councilors, spending more time on council duty usually means more miles driven, more meals eaten out, and home duties farmed out to hired hands, all at the councilors' expense.
When the new city charter was approved in 1989, it set an initial annual salary for City Councilors as $12,000, a minimal sum even then for a council that the powers that be hoped would be nothing but a rubber stamp for mayoral and chamber initiatives.
We can't afford to make city councilors whole for all the work they do above and beyond the official weekly meeting, but we can at least acknowledge their hard work with a stipend that can help them justify the cost of serving to the families who depend on their income.
$24,000 in 2013 dollars is $12,709.86 in 1989 dollars. So we're talking about a 6% raise (adjusted for inflation) for a job that is arguably twice as complex and twice as time-consuming as it was in 1989. That's a bargain. I'll be voting yes.
Our condolences and prayers go out to the Inhofe family. A small private plane registered to Dr. Perry Inhofe, son of Sen. Jim Inhofe, crashed on Sunday, killing the pilot.
The "Improve Our Tulsa" package of capital improvement funding comes to voters as two propositions. We've talked about the 7-year, 1.1% sales tax (Proposition 2). Here's Proposition 3, the general obligation bond issue. Before Mayor Jim Inhofe introduced the "third-penny" sales tax, G. O. bond issues were the way Tulsa paid for capital improvements.
Oklahoma law allows counties and school districts and community colleges and library systems to use property tax ("millage levies") for operating expenses, but cities can use property tax for two purposes only: repaying "general obligation bond issues" for capital improvements and paying off judicial settlements and judgments against the city. The money comes out of a "sinking fund" which is replenished by an increase in property taxes. (For example, the $7.1 million Great Plains Airlines settlement that Kathy Taylor arranged and Dewey Bartlett Jr approved would have been paid in this way, had the Oklahoma Supreme Court not ruled that the repayment was illegal.) So the only way a city in Oklahoma can make use of property tax as a revenue source is to get sued or go into debt. (I leave the perverse incentives thereby created as an exercise for the reader.)
Each year, the city submits its sinking fund needs to the county excise board, which calculates the millage required to cover the need, based on the assessed value of property in the city. Tulsa has the highest property tax rate of any city in Tulsa County: 20.24, which amounts to $202.40 of the property tax bill on a $100,000 house, about $30 more than the tax on the same value house in Broken Arrow. It amounts to about 15% of your total property tax bill.
For as long as I can remember, the City of Tulsa has balanced its capital improvements funding between sales tax and G. O. bonds. New bond issues are usually staggered to keep the property tax rate level; the idea is to issue new bonds as the old bonds are paid off. We would get more for our money if the millage could be "pay as you go," if we didn't have to incur fees for issuing the bonds and debt service, but for now, state law doesn't allow it.
So there's nothing scandalous or novel about issuing G. O. bonds to finance streets and bridges.
70% of the $335 million is designated for rebuilding and maintaining existing streets. By law that 70% must be spent for stated projects. Arguably, only 52% is going to specifically listed projects; another 18% ($63,406,000) is made up of "citywide" funds for unspecified rehabilitation and replacement projects and matching funds. An attorney wanting to derail the bond issue could have some fun with that. The relevant section of state law is 62 O. S. 574.
That leaves 30%, $106.5 million, which could be spent on other street and bridge construction, reconstruction, and repair projects yet to be determined. The bond issue language is limited to those purposes. Debt service would be over and above the $335 million, which constitutes the amount of principal being borrowed.
Despite the lack of specificity on which street projects will be funded with 48% of the money, at least we know the money has to be spent on street projects. My inclination is to vote FOR Proposition 3.
In recognition of Veterans Day, I'd like to call your attention to a new book, Where Do We Find Such Men?, published in May by Robert N. Going, about the men of his hometown, Amsterdam, N. Y., who served our country during World War II.
Going scoured through his hometown newspaper from 1940 through 1946 and assembled a chronicle of his townsmen's bravery. These men were heroes at Saipan, at Guadalcanal, at Omaha Beach, and those that made it back lived quiet, modest lives as husbands, fathers, factory workers, and shopkeepers.
The title came from this excerpts from President Ronald Reagan's radio address on Armed Forces Day 1982.
In James Michener's book "The Bridges at Toko-Ri," he writes of an officer waiting through the night for the return of planes to a carrier as dawn is coming on. And he asks, "Where do we find such men?" Well, we find them where we've always found them. They are the product of the freest society man has ever known. They make a commitment to the military--make it freely, because the birthright we share as Americans is worth defending. God bless America.
The question in the title brings to mind a chapter from C. S. Lewis's book The Abolition of Man, entitled Men without Chests. Lewis wrote in 1943 about an educational philosophy that ridiculed the importance of training sentiment, a philosophy that would make it harder to find such men in future:
Let us suppose for a moment that the harder virtues could really be theoretically justified with no appeal to objective value. It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that 'a gentleman does not cheat', than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism... about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the 'spirited element'. "The head rules the belly through the chest" -- the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment -- these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal....
And all the time -- such is the tragi-comedy of our situation -- we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
Thankfully, when the world needed men to free it from fascism, such men who would risk all for the sake of family, hometown, and country could still be found in abundance. And although mainstream modern culture ridicules and devalues sentiments like patriotism, men and women of patriotic sentiment can still be found, ready to serve our country. May America never lack their like.
Here is Going's first public presentation about the book, from earlier this month:
There's a thought-provoking story from last week's local elections in Houston: An elderly, white, conservative man won a non-partisan race for a six-year-term on the board of Houston Community College, defeating a four-term African-American incumbent in a heavily African-American district. The victorious candidate, Dave Wilson, used stock photos of African-Americans on his direct mail pieces and never included a picture of himself. One mail piece noted that he had been endorsed by his cousin, Ron Wilson. The Ron Wilson who endorsed him was his cousin from Iowa, but voters may have assumed he was referring to the former State Representative from that area.
Some are claiming that Dave Wilson pretended to be black, but he never claimed to be African-American; he just avoided creating the impression that he wasn't. As a result, it appears that he was able to get a hearing for the concerns he had about the management of Houston Community College, concerns that apparently were shared by enough voters to get him elected. This link has one of his radio ads in which a woman talks about the incumbent's support for funding HCC's overseas programs over funding for local scholarships.
I'm torn between being heartened that Wilson was able to neutralize race as an issue and being disheartened at the assumption that voters would have rejected him if they'd known his race, and even more disheartened that voters appear to have allowed direct mail pieces to serve as their sole source of input on the election.
Which brings us to Tulsa. Both the Taylor and Bartlett campaigns have spent piles of money pushing their preferred memes -- positive memes about their own candidates and negative memes about the opposition. Because I wish they could both lose on Tuesday, I've spent my limited blogging time during this campaign trying to debunk the nonsense from each side. No, Kathy Taylor did not bring us to the brink of bankruptcy, and Dewey Bartlett Jr didn't rescue us from bankruptcy. Dewey has been as big a spender as Kathy. You can't push all the blame for the trash mess onto Bartlett Jr; Taylor deserves a big share of the blame, too. Neither candidate is visionary or competent or bold. Both backed the Great Plains Airlines bailout. Both have had problems working respectfully with those who disagree with them, particularly their fellow elected officials.
Tulsa voters have made a mess. Maybe if their noses are rubbed in it they won't do it again.
Conversations, face-to-face and on Facebook, indicate that my debunking effort has been a failure. It's shocking to hear intelligent people parrot lines from local political commercials with conviction, as if they'd come to the conclusion independently, with no awareness that they'd been fed those lines from a couple of very expensive propaganda machines. I'm not frightened by what they don't know; I'm frightened by what they "know" that isn't so.
I'm reminded of this:
tI'm conflicted about Tuesday's vote. I would love to see Kathy Taylor's $3 million attempt to buy her way back into the mayor's office rendered futile and her political career ended.
But just when I'm comfortable with the idea of voting for Dewey Bartlett Jr just to stop Taylor, Bartlett Jr or one of his minions does something obnoxious like refusing to show up for a discussion with the City Council on Tulsa's revenue shortfalls, claiming this year's homicide body count is no big deal, or leaking a police report that ordinarily would have been withheld from the public. And that puts me back in the None of the Above column.
One veteran Oklahoma Republican who has volunteered for the Bartlett campaign observed that if Tulsa had a competent Republican mayor, the outcome would not be in doubt. It's Bartlett Jr's obnoxious incompetence that has made this a close race. The GOP establishment types who pushed Bartlett Jr's candidacy in 2009, despite clear warning signs like Bartlett Jr's endorsement of Taylor and Bartlett Jr's backing of the $7.1 million Great Plains Airlines settlement, owe their fellow Republicans an apology. Bartlett Jr's support for equating sexual confusion with race and religion and for a massive corporate welfare and pork barrel tax have realized the fears of fiscal and social conservatives alike who held their noses and voted for him in 2009.
And if Taylor were truly as moderate and non-partisan as the image she has paid to create, she might be way out in front. But she has shown her true colors in her support for left-wing causes like Michael Bloomberg's coalition of gun-grabbing mayors and anthropogenic-global-warming globaloney, and her support for left-wing candidates like Barack Obama and Harry Reid.
Nor has Taylor has shown any courage on land use and development issues, notwithstanding the wishful thinking of my urbanist friends. When her voice might have helped, she has remained silent. For example, not only did Taylor refuse to speak out against wanton downtown demolition during the recent debate, when she was mayor her administration opposed modest measures to encourage preservation and pursued a downtown assessment and fire-code rules that had the side effect of encouraging demolition.
I understand my friends who are voting for Dewey because they are afraid that Kathy will use her position and wealth as a springboard to higher office. I understand my friends who are voting for Kathy because she seems to be marginally more professional in manner and to have been easier to work with than Dewey has been.
Vote as you please, but there's no reason to feel good about the vote you cast on Tuesday.
MORE: The AP's Justin Juozapavicius covers the collapse of the once friendly relationship between Bartlett Jr and Taylor:
Challenger Kathy Taylor and incumbent Dewey Bartlett, Jr., live roughly a half-mile apart, share a social strata and dozens of mutual friends and, at one point, actually used to like each other.
For much of the past year, they've been at each other's throats, peppering airwaves and mailboxes with brutal ads and accusations -- eroding what had been the equivalent of a political romance. She recruited him while she was mayor in 2007 to help head up a high-profile drive to fix Tulsa's seemingly ancient roadways; he endorsed her re-election bid in 2009, but she decided not to run again.
Those days are long gone. Bartlett's called her a quitter who left office because she couldn't cut it as the recession was gripping Tulsa. She's called him an absentee mayor who bothers to show up to only 8 percent of various city meetings and has no plan to tackle a budget shortfall that totaled $3.16 million at the start of the fiscal year.
Separated at birth? Photo collage from http://kathytaylorvoteno.blogspot.com/
In addition to voting for mayor next Tuesday, Tulsans will also decide whether to re-elect or replace the City Auditor, and will vote on three ballot propositions. Prop. 1 involves raising the city councilor salary to $24,000 per year. Prop. 2 and 3 are collectively called "Improve Our Tulsa" and involve nearly a billion dollars in funding for capital improvements.
Why two propositions? Because there are two different kinds of taxes involved: A sales tax (Prop. 2) and a general obligation bond issue that will be repaid by an increase in property tax rates (Prop. 3).
Prop. 2 is a 1.1% City of Tulsa sales tax capped both by money (tax ends once $563.7 million as been collected) and by time (seven years, from July 1, 2014, to no later than June 30, 2021). Here is the Prop. 2 ballot resolution establishing the parameters for the sales tax. Here is the City of Tulsa "Brown Ordinance," codified as Title 43-H, that sets out specifically how the sales tax revenues are to be spent, sets up a Sales Tax Overview Committee to oversee the completion of the projects, and establishes a complicated procedure to ensure that the public is notified of any proposed changes to the allocation of the sales tax revenues.
For most of its history the City of Tulsa funded capital improvements by general obligation bond issues (repaid by increased property tax rates), enterprise funds (e.g., water revenues paying for new water lines), and special assessments (e.g., property owners adjacent to a road would each pay a share of the cost for repaving it).
In 1966, Tulsa tripled in land area overnight, adding about 120 square miles to the north, east, and south. By 1979, it had become clear that the City could not keep up with both repair of older infrastructure and extension of infrastructure to new areas of growth. Then-Mayor Jim Inhofe proposed the first "Third-Penny" sales tax, adding a 1% tax earmarked for capital improvements to the 2% permanent tax. Voters rejected it, partly because, unlike bond issues, the money wasn't legally bound to be spent on the promised projects, and partly because voters did not want to spend tax dollars on a low-water dam on the Arkansas River.
In 1980, Inhofe tried again, this time without the low-water dam but with additional legal protections to guarantee that the money would be spent as promised. The new provisions were devised by Darven Brown in the city's legal department. Ever since then, the separate ordinance specifying projects to be funded by a Third-Penny tax, establishing an overview committee, and requiring a high-level of public notice before changes can be considered has been known in his honor as the Brown Ordinance. The Brown Ordinances have been codified as Title 43-A through 43-H -- this is the eighth such ordinance.
The current City of Tulsa sales tax rate is currently 3.167% -- a permanent 2% for general operations, and 1.167% for capital improvements approved in 2008 ("Fix Our Streets") and which expires at the end of June 2014. That 0.167% (1/6th of a cent) came into effect after Tulsa County's Four-to-Fix-The-County part 2 expired at the end of September 2011, resulting in more revenue for Tulsa's street rebuilding program without an increase in the overall sales tax rate in Tulsa.
The reason this renewal only involves 1.1% instead of 1.167% is because of an agreement between city officials and county officials to allow the county to put its own sales tax before the voters next year and reclaim the difference (0.067%) for county projects without raising the overall sales tax rate in the City of Tulsa.
Here are some of my thoughts about this measure, some favorable, some unfavorable.
Prop. 2 is set up just like the other seven capital improvement ("third penny") sales tax measures that have been approved by voters since 1980. At a top level, it's no more a blank check than those measures were. The sales tax will be spent as it comes in. None of the funds are reserved for debt service.
What is different this year are many vague line items with big dollar amounts, e.g., $46,235,000 for "Five-Year Capital Equipment Needs." That's a lot of money that can be moved around without triggering the protections of the Brown Ordinance.
I'm pleased to see funding for capital improvements related to implementation of small-area plans in areas like the Pearl District, the Northland area, and the Eugene Field (West Tulsa) area. Residents and business owners have been waiting for years, even decades for improvements that these neighborhoods need to attract new residents and businesses. Elm Creek
And yet the inclusion of funds for "acquisition" (read that as eminent domain / condemnation), and the inclination of our city leaders to ignore plans and promises if someone with enough money wants something different all combine to make me very nervous about the lack of detail setting out exactly will be done with the money.
City councilors were wise to exclude funding for improvements to the BOK Center. Tulsans already fronted the money to build the entertainment venue, and it will never generate enough additional sales tax money to pay us back for the cost of construction. It's not too much to ask those who use the venue to cover ongoing maintenance and operating costs.
At the same time, councilors included a $10,000,000 donation to another governmental entity. I love our library system and want it to continue to thrive, but the City of Tulsa has no business donating $10,000,000 of its scarce sales tax funds and giving it to the Tulsa City-County Library system, which has a dedicated and generous revenue stream, a permanent property tax. If the library board doesn't have enough money for the capital improvements it wants, the library board can ask the voters for more property tax or it can ask Tulsans to contribute toward the project. This big government-to-government donation shouldn't be a part of this sales tax package.
I wonder why wording in this package is so cagey about plans to widen Gilcrease Museum Road between Edison and Apache -- the stretch that runs in front of the museum and behind homes in Gilcrease Hills. The Brown Ordinance refers to it euphemistically as "25 W. Ave."
I'm impressed by the level of detail provided about Gilcrease Museum improvements -- 19 separate line items -- but I wonder why that level of detail wasn't the standard for the entire package. And I wonder why a city-owned museum seeking city funding for improvements presents itself on the web as a wholly owned subsidiary of a private university.
Some of the prettiest views in Tulsa are found by driving Yale between 81st and 91st. It's one of the few places we didn't slavishly follow the section line grid but instead respected the terrain. I see $31 million to widen that section, and I worry the city is going to mess that up.
I was heartened this summer to see the Woodward Park water features that I remember from my childhood running once again. But I see $4.85 million for extensive landscaping and renovating the stream at the pond, and I worry that we'll be giving the city the money and permission they need to mess it all up.
District 6 is home to 11.1% of Tulsa's population, yet the east Tulsa district has only seven specific projects: Three small bridges, three playgrounds, and Savage Park.
I'm sorry I didn't pay closer attention to this package when it was being formulated. After they removed a couple of prominent deal-killers, I thought I'd be able to support the package. Now I'm not sure.
Because the existing sales tax doesn't expire until June 30, 2014, there is time to make some changes and try again, if this effort fails.
Former Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton, a Republican and a budget hawk during his time on the council, issued a statement today on the fiscal record of incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr:
As a former City Councilor, I share my opinion that Mayor Dewey Bartlett is not a fiscal conservative. He has allowed the City budget to grow to an irresponsible level.
Mayor Bartlett expanded the budget to extraordinary amounts over the last three years. The three largest budgets in the City of Tulsa's history have been during his administration.
Today, news sources report that the projected budget shortfall is over $6.0 million.
In the six weeks since the City of Tulsa's budget deficit was first disclosed, I've watched with avid interest for leadership from Mayor Dewey Bartlett. Tulsa is still waiting.
Like others who have previously served Tulsa in an elected role, I understand the ramifications of not moving quickly to adjust the budget and curtail an out-of-control deficit.
The head of the Office of Management Review remains unfilled, and we've learned that the City Council must take the lead in implementing the KPMG study cost reductions.
I remain simply an observer in the Mayoral race, and expressly offer no endorsement for either candidate.
Eagleton said he has been pleading with his fellow councilors for years to adopt a strategy he calls core-inflation budgeting, rather than simply budgeting to the revenue stream. Because Tulsa's municipal budget relies on sales tax revenue, he said, the amount of money city officials have to spend shrinks accordingly when sales tax receipts go into a decline.
In 2006, he said, the economy was good, and sales tax receipts were high.
"And we spent every penny we earned," he said. "We gave raises all around that are now baked into the cake. So, it becomes harder and harder every time, with each budget cycle downturn, to meet our budget."
Eagleton favors a budget process based on the core inflation rate that sets aside revenue for the inevitable downturns of the future. Some smaller sacrifices today can help the city avoid having to make what he calls the "Draconian cuts" required in the current budget.
"If we had done that in 2007 and 2008, yes, we would still have to trim the edges, but we wouldn't have the eight furlough days we did have," he said.
Eagleton said he plans on making the same core-budgeting plea next spring, but the reception that proposal receives depends on the makeup of the council and who occupies the mayor's office.
A letter written to televangelist Oral Roberts by someone claiming to be John Lennon is the cover story of the October 24, 2013, edition of Oral Roberts University's student newspaper, The Oracle.
The letter arrived at the ORU campus in December 1972, accompanied by a &sterling;10 note as a contribution. Oral Roberts read it to the student body at a chapel service on January 26, 1973, to the amazement of the students.
A photocopy of the original letter, made when Roberts had it transcribed so he could read it in chapel, has been located in the university archives, but the original has not been found. The Oracle emailed scans of the photocopy to Beatles memorabilia experts, who say the handwriting bears no resemblance to Lennon's from that period, although his handwriting changed more than any of the other Beatles over the years. One expert suggests that Lennon may have dictated the letter to the cousin mentioned in the letter and whose name and address appeared on the envelope.
The Oracle story includes a transcript of the complete John Lennon letter to Oral Roberts. It includes some lines that are not in the version published in Oral Roberts: An American Life, but are consistent with the transcribed version of Roberts' reading of the letter at chapel.
Beatle biographers have noted Lennon's interest in televangelists during the 1970s and a brief period in 1977 in which he professed to be a born-again Christian. That Lennon's search for meaning might have driven him to write a televangelist known world-wide -- the early '70s were the peak of Roberts' fame -- doesn't seem so farfetched.